International Travel with Kids
Tips for a Pleasant and Productive Trip
Exposing children to travel early in life is one of the best ways to introduce cultural differences and teach tolerance. Although it may seem easier to postpone long-distance travel until our kids are older, this can mean missed opportunities for great learning experiences. International travel with kids can be easy and enjoyable when you keep a few tips in mind.
- Plan Well for Long Flights, Train & Bus Rides – Detailed planning becomes even more important when you’ve got little ones along, and anticipating your children’s needs is a key to success. That movie you brought along may last for most of the flight, but will your children sit still and watch it the whole time? Would a new video game help keep their attention? Plan for snacks, potty breaks and “stretches”. Enlist the help of attendants if possible – many are trained to interact with children and may have suggestions to help keep them entertained.
- Make Trips Educational & Fun – If your kids are old enough, having them research your destination is a wonderful way to get them invested in the experience. What’s the climate like, and what type of clothing will they require? Do the people where you’re going eat foods that they like? Are you planning to visit historical or cultural sites that they could learn about in advance?
- Go Natural! – Plan to spend some time enjoying the natural surroundings of your destination. Visit local parks and playgrounds, experience the local markets, try a campout, or explore small towns off the beaten path. A picnic lunch in the park or at the beach is always a winner!
- Embrace the Culture – Travelling abroad gives kids a wonderful opportunity to note differences in the ways people live and the everyday things that are taken for granted – food, dress, schedules, modes of transportation, housing and schooling. If they’re willing, encourage your kids to interact with the locals and ask questions. A playground is a great place to find other kids who may be willing to share. If your kids document their experiences through drawing, journaling, photos or videos, they’ll have a record that they can share with friends when they return back home.
- Seek out Experiences, not Dust Catchers! – Leaving a little room in your suitcase for mementos is fine, but what your children will cherish in the years to come are the experiences that you’ve shared on your trip. The pictures you take of their unexpected discoveries will be far more meaningful than any tchotchke sitting on a shelf. When you do bring home a token, make sure it’s something that they’ve selected themselves. Discuss why the object has value for them and how it represents what they’d like to remember about your trip.
- Experience the Food – Trying local food can REALLY be an adventure, especially if you’re travelling with a picky eater! Learn about local cuisines before your trip, and have familiar alternatives on hand for those with “discriminating” palates. Just being away from home can be stressful enough without having to change your diet, too! Concentrate on what your children like and cheer on any willingness to try new things. Most importantly, respecting the “yucky face” will show your kids that you value their opinion. Go with the flow and help them have fun with their new options.
- Welcome Home! – Reviewing your trip can be one of the best parts of coming home. Allow your children to organize your photos and slides. Serve food or snacks that are representative of your destination. Invite some friends over and let the kids take the lead! Giggling about the trip’s ups and downs allows kids to learn that often things don’t go as planned, which will help them build realistic expectations and openness for your next great adventure.
- Additional Suggestions for Family Travel
Buy a world map and pin it up at home before your trip. Give your children geography lessons by showing them where your family will be going. Talk about the distance, the neighboring countries, and which the continent you’ll be on.
Visit your public or school library and stock up on picture books about the country you’ll be visiting. Practice the language of that country. Focus on the attributes of the particular areas where you’ll be staying.
Practice suitcase packing! Let your children help pack their own suitcases. Allow them to bring along some of their favorite toys or other items in their own backpack or rolling suitcase.
Adapted from original submission by Karen Walter, Local Travel Excursions